Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by Janet Scott Batchler & Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson
There are so many new releases each week anymore that it is impossible to get to them all. There are inevitably great films that go unnoticed, underappreciated, or even unseen. There are also those terrible ones that manage to make millions upon millions of dollars because they have the finance and marketing behind them to get people in the seats opening weekend. It’s hardly a fair system, but that’s the way it is. Sometimes we must try a little harder to find the really good movies out there, and sometimes the blockbusters or awards season heavy hitters are quite good too. But I’ve always said seeing the truly bad films will always help put the good ones into perspective.
Pompeii is, of course, based loosely on the historic events of the explosion of the volcano Mount Vesuvius near the Roman city of Pompeii in AD 79. Milo (Kit Harington) is our hero, a Celt who witnessed his whole people slaughtered by a Roman, Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), and his men. However, Milo survived to become a slave, and ultimately a successful gladiator. Graduating from the British province, Milo travels to Pompeii where he befriends fellow slave and gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje). He also soon finds himself in love with Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of the cities proprietor, who happens to be seeking funds to upgrade his city from now Senator Corvus.
The film is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, a fairly divisive filmmaker with camps supporting his style as well as those lambasting it. Some go so far as to call him a “vulgar auteur”, whose films are often overlooked for better or worse. This particular film of his plays out very much like it wanted nothing more than to be a sweeping romantic epic full of love, action and history. Anderson manages to forget just one element out of his film: a story. The story is lackluster at best, lacking any true originality (I’ll avoid making the obvious comparison) or fervor.. By the conclusion I had managed to forget why we liked the heroes and disliked the villains. It was a story with no backbone.
What makes Pompeii an even more offensive production is the fact that the bad doesn’t just stop at story. No, instead it decides that for a special effects laden film, they might just do it half way. The effects aren’t the worst I’ve seen, not by a longshot, but for a film with the ambition to be a special effects playground, and one with some genuine good ideas for its use, its impact is lessened by the less than effective efforts of the v/x team. The editing also failed the fight scenes of the film, failing to supply any concept of timing or space, which, along with the paper thin plot, relegated the fight scenes to the same barbaric concept of entertainment by death.
Kiefer Sutherland ends up being the best aspect of the film. Or was he the worst? I can’t decide, but either way, he is so bad I began to wonder whether he was the only one in the cast in on the joke of the movie, which is a shame because had everyone else gone full ham for the length of the film, it may have flirted with the coveted “so bad it’s good” realm. Sadly, however, it never got there and instead ends up just simply being a really bad film. One that you should not go see. Or maybe you should for a good laugh, or to help put some of the better movies out there in perspective. There is nothing quite like a stinker to remind you that there is good filmmaking out there.